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Orlando Sentinel: Transportation bill good for Florida

Monday, July 16, 2012

Last month, while most of us were cleaning up from Tropical Storm Debby, Congress did something rather remarkable, something that rarely gets done in today’s politically polarized Washington. Lawmakers passed a bipartisan bill to help fund highway and transit projects.

The overdue surface-transportation legislation, signed into law on July 6, ensures our tax dollars come back to Florida to support much-needed transportation improvement projects, such as the Interstate-4 expansion. The funding will also help sustain the nearly 200,000 jobs that are tied to the design, construction and maintenance of our state’s transportation infrastructure.

And unlike past federal surface-transportation bills, which traditionally have been loaded down with lawmakers’ pet projects, this bill contained zero earmarks. Instead, it consolidated overlapping federal programs and reduced bureaucratic waste.

This bill was a clear departure from the “Washington knows best” attitude, which has dominated federal decision making for decades. It increases state flexibility in the use of federal funds, giving state transportation officials greater control over how and where federal resources are used.

In addition, the bill contained substantial reforms to the environmental review process, allowing multiple agencies to review paperwork simultaneously, rather than consecutively. This common-sense policy change will reduce the time it takes to complete major transportation improvement projects, which currently ranges from nine to 19 years. Speeding project delivery will save taxpayers time and money.

The bill also expands opportunities to attract private-sector resources into transportation projects by increasing funding for the Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act credit-assistance program to $1 billion per year by 2014. This program helps states leverage private dollars to meet their transportation needs.

Members of Congress who helped pass these reforms, especially Rep. John Mica, R-Winter Park, who chairs the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, deserve credit for putting the nation’s needs above partisan politics.

At the end of the day, Mica and his colleagues were able to differentiate between wasteful government spending and critically needed investments in infrastructure that will facilitate commerce, support jobs and move the country forward. The reforms in the new law are good for Florida and good for the nation.

Bob Burleson is president of the Florida Transportation Builders’ Association.

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